To friends and loved ones who can't be with us; and to those who are no longer with us.
You are always in our hearts.
Auld Lang Syne (to days gone by)... farewell 2013.
Wishing everyone a safe and happy 2014.
He sent us all into a panic when he was barely two, leaving the house on his own and walking over to the tennis courts at the local high school.
He could disappear in a store in a flash, leaving me at first angry, then frantic when I could not find him, and no amount of reasoning or threats could dissuade him from this practice. He felt safe and completely at ease and could not understand my anxiety.
I never cured him of this habit; the only thing that changed was that it was not as bad to lose a 10-year-old as a two-year-old.
He was smart, very smart, and I often felt he knew more than the rest of us, and along with his strong will, he was also brave.
Just a few months after he entered West Point, the future of the United States was violently changed by the events of September 11, 2001. Matt was not intimidated by the thought of what this meant.
He graduated from West Point in May 2005, near the top of his class, with a major in Chinese and economics. He joined the infantry, and after graduation became a Ranger, and was assigned to the 173rd Airborne in Vicenza, Italy, a choice post.
An Army medic, Staff Sergeant Max Warshaw, was awarded 11 medals and a Combat Medic Badge in World War II.
He received his first Bronze Star medal in 1942, in the North African Campaign. His regiment was fighting the Germans in Algeria. He risked his life by exposing himself to the enemy to help his regiment's wounded lying in open areas.
Two days later, Warshaw was wounded by shrapnel. "An artillery shell blew up right near me," he recalled, "it didn't knock me out and I didn't require hospitalization. However, for many years I would still need to have artillery shrapnel removed."
In 1943, Warshaw received his first Silver Star medal for gallantry in action in Tunisia.
On D-Day, he landed with his outfit in Normandy, where he was one of the first to hit Omaha Beach. It was for his heroism on June 14 and 15, 1944, that he received his second Bronze Star medal.
His division kept pushing the German Army back to its own country. It was in Aachen, Germany, on October 13, 1944, that Warshaw received his third Bronze Star medal. He constantly exposed himself to the enemy to administer first aid to the wounded.
Three days later, he was again awarded the Silver Star medal for heroism and gallantry beyond the call of duty.
On November 25, 1944, Staff Sergeant Max Warshaw was captured by the Germans. They gave him a medical kit to care for the other prisoners of war. He was liberated five months later and sent to England for medical care.
It was a dream come true for a veteran and his family, who were handed the keys to their mortgage free home today.
"From the moment that we hit the street, and then the driveway and then you walk in the front door, it was just gorgeous," said Ashley Toppin, the veteran's wife.
For Andrew and Ashley Toppin, a permanent place to call home for their family, is more than they could have ever dreamed, especially after their whole world nearly was torn apart just a few years ago.
"I drove over a road side bomb and it came through, hit the center of the vehicle and the vehicle caught fire, I got out," said Andrew.
In December 2009, Andrew was wounded in Iraq. He suffered the loss of his right leg and injuries to his face, arms and left leg.
"I remember getting loaded onto the helicopter and getting transferred and I kind of passed out, and I woke up in January 2010," Andrew said.
Nearly four years later, the Toppins are grateful to have each other, their daughter and another son born in August. Their dream of owning a home became a reality through a special partnership with Building Homes for Heroes and JP Morgan Chase & Co.
They plan to move in as soon as they get everything packed up.
“It is, in a way, an odd thing to honor those who died in defense of our country, in defense of us, in wars far away. The imagination plays a trick. We see these soldiers in our mind as old and wise. We see them as something like the Founding Fathers, grave and gray haired.
But most of them were boys when they died, and they gave up two lives – the one they were living and the one they would have lived. When they died, they gave up their chance to be husbands and fathers and grandfathers. They gave up their chance to everything for our country, for us.
And all we can do is remember.”
- Ronald Reagan
I received this picture today along with a letter from the commander of the team Josh was a part of on the night of his injuries. A letter to explain to me what kind of man I have the privilege of being married to. He explained to me what happened and what was going on in the picture.
"Josh was seriously wounded as you know and survived for almost two hours after his injury before arriving to the hospital. Josh was immediately pushed through a series of surgeries and emerged hours later into an intensive care unit here at our base in Afghanistan. Despite being in intense pain and mental duress, Josh remained alert and compassionate to the limited Rangers that were allowed to visit him bedside.
Prior to Josh being moved to Germany for his eventual flight to America, we conducted a ceremony to award him with the Purple Heart for wounds received in action. A simple ceremony, you can picture a room full of Rangers, leaders, doctors, and nurses surrounding his bedside while the Ranger Regimental Commander pinned the Purple Heart to his blanket. During the presentation the Commander publishes the official orders verbally and leaned over Josh to thank him for his sacrifice.
Josh, whom everybody in the room (over 50 people) assumed to be unconscious, began to move his right arm under the blanket in a diligent effort to salute the Commander as is customary during these ceremonies. Despite his wounds, wrappings, tubes, and pain, Josh fought the doctor who was trying to restrain his right arm and rendered the most beautiful salute any person in that room had ever seen.
I cannot impart on you the level of emotion that poured through the intensive care unit that day. Grown men began to weep and we were speechless at a gesture that speak volumes about Josh's courage and character. The picture, which we believe belongs on every news channel and every news paper is attached. I have it hanging above my desk now and will remember it as the single greatest event I have witnessed in my ten years in the Army."
HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. (AFNS) -- One by one, Airmen from the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron lined up at the back of a C-130 Hercules, paused, then stepped off the aircraft Oct. 16, completing their free fall training jump into the picturesque water of Florida's Emerald Coast.
For Staff Sgt. Johnnie Yellock Jr., this jump was two years and 28 surgeries in the making.
In 2011, Yellock, a 23rd STS combat controller, was deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. While on a mission checking Afghan local police outposts, his vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device.
"When I opened my eyes, I was on top of the truck with my legs hanging down onto the bed," Yellock said. "I had open fractures on both of my feet through my boots."
Despite his injuries, he continued to pass information to his team, including the details for a helicopter landing zone for his own medical evacuation.
"I'd been in the career field for years and I was trained for this type of situation, trained on medical trauma care," he said. "I took pride in the knowledge I had, and I was confident I'd be able to help a teammate if needed. I didn't expect it to be myself."
For two and a half months his parents and sister stayed by his side while he was recovering in the hospital in San Antonio, Texas. Once released, he began his outpatient rehabilitation and the long road to recovery. The first year, he stayed mostly in a wheelchair before he was finally able to walk, first with crutches, then unassisted.
The idea for the jump originated in the 23rd STS as his leadership was coordinating his return to Hurlburt Field to outprocess and medically retire Oct. 18.
"We have a lot of wounded warriors in various stages of recovery, and maintaining care and contact with our wounded brothers is important to us," said Lt. Col. Mason Dula, the 23rd STS commander. "Of course, the jump is important for (Yellock) and a nice exclamation point for his career, but it's also equally important for the guys in our squadron to see him come back and see the commitment we have with all of our wounded warriors. They are still our teammates."
Yellock said his leadership made sure his doctors approved and that he could accomplish multiple tasks to prove he was ready, like swimming 100 meters with his gear on and going to wind tunnel training to show he could handle a free fall.
"People have said this is a symbol of resilience -- my attitude -- since the injury hasn't gotten me down," Yellock said. "But I tell them anybody in my situation, any of these other special tactics operators would handle it in the same way. I just hope they wouldn't have to."
During the jump, Yellock was surrounded by his fellow operators and teammates from the deployment, and supported by the same leaders who were there when he was hurt. He said that was even more meaningful than the jump itself.
"It just represents (Air Force Special Operations Command's) never-ending support for our wounded guys and our fallen comrades," he said. "I may be retired from the military, but I'll always be a combat controller."
”The service rendered the United States by the American mother is the greatest source of the Country’s strength and inspiration.
We honor ourselves and the mothers of America when we revere and give emphasis to the home as the fountainhead of the State.
The American mother is doing so much for the home and for the moral and spiritual uplift of the people of the United States and hence so much for good government and humanity.”
Whereas the American Gold Star Mothers suffered the supreme sacrifice of motherhood in the loss of their sons and daughters in World Wars, Public Resolution 12 provides: the last Sunday in September shall hereafter be designated and known as “Gold Star Mother’s Day”.
- The preamble to Public Resolution 123, approved June 23, 1936, the first legislation to provide recognition for Gold Star Mother’s Day.
Carter is the second Medal of Honor recipient from the Battle of Kamdesh, one of the few fights in Afghanistan to catch the attention of the American public. Clint Romesha received his award earlier this year, for fighting done on the other side of the remote Army firebase.
On Oct. 3, 2009, more than 300 Taliban fighters descended on Combat Outpost Keating, a soon-to-be-abandoned site near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, in a well-coordinated ambush. Eight U.S. soldiers would be killed in the daylong battle, and 22 wounded.
When the fighting began — a hail of bullets from above, almost immediately overwhelming the 54-man force inside the COP — then-Spc. Carter was asleep. He rushed into battle wearing a tan T-shirt and PT shorts but did manage to grab his body armor.
He spent most of the day out of uniform, just trying to survive.
Carter and three others were pinned down around a sandbagged Humvee serving as a guard tower, dodging between cover as the enemy advanced.
He watched two friends die in the early assault and two more die trying to support his position. Another, Spc. Stephan Mace, was gravely wounded by a rocket-propelled grenade and left stranded in the middle of the kill zone.
Carter ran onto exposed ground to pull the almost lifeless Mace to safety. He had to make two trips — out to stabilize the fallen soldier, back to coordinate cover fire with Larson, out again to drag Mace across the kill zone back to relative safety.
On his next scavenging mission, Carter found a fallen comrade’s radio and managed to connect with the men across the COP. They set up an evacuation plan, got themselves out of the Humvee prison and took Mace to the medics.
“I had told myself long before that if I ended up in that kind of situation, I wouldn’t let fear make my choices for me,” Carter said. “All I thought about was supporting [our] men.”
Carter still describes his actions largely as a failure, especially when reflecting on Mace’s death. Mace’s mother, Vanessa Adelson, disagrees.
“My son didn’t die in the dirt alone, because of what Ty did,” she told reporters last week. “After seeing another soldier get killed trying to rescue my son, Ty still went out there to save him.
“Because of what he did, Stephan had a few more hours with his brothers. He was able to speak with them (before he was evacuated). He was joking about getting a beer with the surgeons afterwards.
“Because of Ty’s actions, my son died thinking that he was coming home. He was at peace.”
Carter didn’t attend Romesha’s Medal of Honor ceremony, saying the 4-year-old battle still felt too raw for him. He talks about the nine losses his troop suffered in that battle — fellow soldier Ed Faulker Jr. battled PTSD and took his own life a year after the attack.
He has been open about his own struggles with PTSD, and said he hopes to use the new honor as a forum to talk about the stress of war and the stigma of seeking mental help. He deployed again to Afghanistan last year and has been in counseling to help him handle the battlefield horrors he can never unsee.
“America’s citizen soldiers are doing amazing things to make them proud,” he said. “But people need to be more aware of the wounds of combat, both the visual wounds and the unseen ones.”
That’s the man he wants people to see receiving the nation’s highest military honor: a U.S. soldier who did his job and is struggling with the aftermath.
BOISE, Idaho -- A photo of former Marine Jesse Cottle and his wife is going viral on Facebook.
Jesse joined the Marine Corps in August 2003. He had a very dangerous job: To find and dismantle improvised explosive devices.
It was on patrol in Afghanistan in 2009 when Jesse's life changed forever.
"About five hours into that patrol, into that mission, I was struck by an anti-personnel IED," Jesse said. "It was a pressure plate, I stepped on it and lost both legs right away."
One of his fellow Marines was wearing a helmet camera, and the explosion that injured Jesse was caught on tape.
"I remember most everything," he said "I was awake the whole time."
Jesse says it was rough going at first, but support from friends and family helped him through it.
"It was tough and it is tough in general, but I just kind of always had the attitude that it's really tough now but things will just be okay, and I had my family around me I had good friends and basically just my faith really helped me to carry me through and I was lucky to be able to go through the tough recovery, and then still live my life, and meet my beautiful wife."
He met his future bride, Kelly, during his recovery. She was a swimmer for Boise State and the pair met during a swim meet in San Diego.
"I just remember being very intrigued by him," Kelly said. "He was just very different and not just because of his legs, just who he was."
They were married last year and now make their home in San Diego.
Recently, while in Idaho visiting Kelly's family, they took family portraits.
"It was a normal photo shoot, we finally got together and Jessie had his legs on and everything," said Kelly.
Photographer Sarah Ledford suggested a picture in the water.
"So we said 'well, you can just pop off your legs and get on one of our backs and we'll take you in' and so, 'cause that's just how we get around sometimes, like at the beach," said Kelly. "It's just pretty normal, so he hopped back on my back and then Sarah's like 'oh, we'll take some couples shots.'"
Ledford posted one of those shots on her Facebook page. She had no idea the image of Kelly carrying Jesse on her back would get the reaction it did.
"Overwhelming, I can't even keep up with my page," said Ledford. "The picture just blew up, America just fell in love with Jesse and Kelly."
Veteran's welcome home: 'People you don't even know appreciate what you have done'
Posted: August 16, 2013 - 3:35pm
By Beth Reese Cravey
He had been home for quiet visits before, in between surgeries and rehabilitation, since he was severely wounded while serving in Afghanistan in 2012.
But Army 1st Lt. Ryan Timoney, who grew up in Mandarin and St. Johns County, had never received a hero’s welcome home. The kind with a police escort and screaming fans and signs made especially for you and getting to ride in a cool convertible.
“I never ever imagined myself having something like this,” Timoney said. “Coming home and seeing people you don’t even know appreciate what you have done. It feels really good.”
His first clue that this 10-day visit would not be typical was the Florida Highway Patrol escort from the Jacksonville International Airport. His second clue was when his father, Greg, who was driving Timoney, his wife Kelby and mom Diane to their Julington Creek home, made a pit stop at the Fields Cadillac dealership on the Westside.
Dozens of military veterans on motorcycles were there, as well as many more state troopers and officers with the Jacksonville and St. Johns County sheriff’s offices. Also there was Kathy Signorile, who founded the St. Michael’s Soldiers volunteer nonprofit that organized the event, and her husband, Jim, general manager of the dealership, who had arranged a special ride for Timoney and his wife.
They were driven the rest of the way home in a 2012 BMW convertible, escorted by a large contingent of the veterans and law enforcement officers on motorcycles and in vehicles. A rolling roadblock cleared the way on Interstate 295 south.
As the motorcade passed St. Joseph’s Catholic School in Mandarin, which Timoney attended, the entire student body was standing in line at the edge of the campus to wave to him.
“Going by my school ... It was wonderful. They were screaming,” he said.
Kathy Signorile said everyone who she and her 150 volunteers asked to help with the event jumped on board.
“That’s all you have to do in this town. People step up. They love our military,” she said.
The veterans said they participate because they and other war heroes have not always been greeted enthusiastically upon their returns.
“One generation of veterans will not abandon the new generation,” said Darryl Ingle, one of the other veterans on hand. In the past, returning veterans were not appreciated, much less welcomed.
“That should never happen,” he said.
Timoney, 28, left for Afghanistan in April 2012. Less than a month later, he and five other soldiers were attacked by a suicide bomber. Two of them were killed, three injured. Timoney had a fractured left leg, shrapnel wounds to his abdomen, arms, legs and back and a devastating head wound from a ball bearing that crossed through his brain and lodged behind his right ear.
In Kandahar, surgery saved his life by relieving pressure on his brain. He was later moved to a hospital in Germany and then to Walter Reed in Bethesda, Md. Since then, Timoney has had multiple surgeries and hundreds of hours of physical therapy. One surgery replaced the portion of his missing skull with titanium, another amputated his left leg a few inches below the knee. At least one more surgery is expected within the next year or so, to remove that ball bearing.
Still, he has a positive outlook.
“God kept me a live for a reason,” he said.
Team Kadena mourns loss of downed helicopter crew member
by 18th Wing Public Affairs
8/10/2013 - KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- Officials confirmed today the death of a technical sergeant assigned to the 33rd Rescue Squadron here following Monday's crash of a helicopter in the Central Training Area, Okinawa.
Tech. Sgt. Mark A. Smith, 33rd RQS flight engineer, died when the HH 60G Pave Hawk helicopter in which he was flying went down during a training mission. The cause of the crash is under investigation.
"Smitty was a total professional and true warrior," said Lt. Col. Pedro Ortiz, 33rd RQS commander. "He led by example and was wise beyond his young age of 30. In combat or out, I am proud to call him my brother."
Smith, originally from Bakersfield, Calif., joined the Air Force on July 5, 2000, after graduating high school.
"He was a quiet guy outside the aircraft, but in the aircraft, a totally different person," Ortiz said. "In the aircraft, he was blunt and told you how it was. I loved that. His ever-present drive was to make you better and to take care of everyone in combat."
During Smith's 13 years of service, he advanced as a structural maintenance specialist before entering flight engineer upgrade training in 2008. Since arriving here in the fall of 2011, Smith deployed twice to Afghanistan with the 33rd RQS, where he participated in numerous missions to save the lives of service members on the ground.
"One that stands out is the rescue of a commando in the Kamdesh," Ortiz said. "They were under fire by rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine guns. Smitty was rock solid with his hoist despite the imminent and close threats."
During this rescue, a photo was taken by a combat photographer who was nearby in an overwatch position, Ortiz said. The photo has since gone viral in the rescue community. Upon returning from this deployment, Smith was presented the Air Force Commendation Medal by then-18th Wing Commander Brig. Gen. Matt Molloy in a ceremony here.
Off the battlefield, Smith is remembered as a caring father, mentor and friend.
"Smitty was a mentor to all the young Airmen and pilots; he was a father figure to those that didn't have one," Ortiz said. "He and his wife took care of those in need. They always had lots of single Airmen over to his house."
He is survived by his wife, Jessica, also from Bakersfield. The couple has two daughters.
"Team Kadena has lost a hero," said Brig. Gen. James Hecker, 18th Wing commander. "Our hearts are with Smitty's family, friends and loved ones. We all suffer through the loss of one of our precious own."
Hecker urged anyone needing assistance at this difficult time - or who knows someone who may need assistance - to ask for help by contacting their supervisor or any Team Kadena chaplain.
The other three crew members involved in the mishap were rescued by emergency responders and received medical care at U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa.
Here in Japan, the 33rd Rescue Squadron is most recently known for its role in providing disaster relief and search and rescue functions during Operation Tomodachi following the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami that devastated mainland Japan.
The Pave Hawk's primary mission is to conduct day or night personnel recovery operations. It also supports civil search and rescue, medical evacuation, disaster response and humanitarian assistance.
The Navy organization responsible for leading the Defense Department’s explosive ordnance disposal research and development recently dedicated its administration building to a Marine killed in combat in Afghanistan.
The Explosive Development Facility Administration Building and Change House in Indian Head, Md., was dedicated Aug. 7 to Lance Cpl Terry Edward “T.J.” Honeycutt, Jr. who was killed in Oct. 27, 2010 from wounds sustained during combat in Helmand province. Honeycutt, a Charles County, Md., resident deployed with 2nd Battlaion, 9th Marines, out of Camp Lejeune, N.C.
Honeycutt’s former unit commander, Lt. Col. Jim Fullwood, spoke at the ceremony.
“When T.J. deployed to Afghanistan in June 2010, our battalion was sent to Northern Marja, which at the time was the most hostile area of Afghanistan,” Fullwood said, according to a Navy news release. “It had been a base of operations for the Taliban for many years prior. T.J.’s company was placed in the roughest part. Until the day T.J. was killed in action, he carried out hundreds of patrols and fought daily battles. That’s what Marines do."
Fullwood said the work of Honeycutt and other Marines transformed that area.
RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany -- Barry and Lorria Welch sit solemnly in the jump seats of the massive C-17 cargo plane. Their son, who joined the Army three years ago to pay off thousands of dollars in student debt from getting his associates degree, is strapped to a stretcher a few feet in front of them. He is in a medically induced coma with a ventilator tube regulating his breathing.
This most grievously wounded soldier involved in a fatal attack outside Kabul in late July returned to the U.S. this week, following two failed attempts to transport the blast victim for fear the flight would kill him.
The military flew his parents from their home in Salem, Ore., to this medical facility after he was wounded by an insurgent fighter who detonated an explosive-laden donkey next to a U.S. Army patrol. The Welches then accompanied their son for his return journey to Walter Reed Army hospital in Washington, his body riddled with shrapnel from the attack.
The blast killed three of his fellow troops based at Combat Outpost Soltan Kheyl in Wardak Province, and blinded and likely paralyzed this soldier. The unit's translator and four other Afghans were also killed in the attack.
This journey for the Welches would not have been an option 30 or 40 years ago, at a time before the military put a top priority on sending wounded troops home quickly, and allowing families to reunite with their grievously injured loved ones.
This system of aerial medical evacuation from the war zone saves nearly 99 percent of the critically wounded troops. It employs 21st century medical techniques that allow a soldier injured deep in enemy territory abroad to get the critical care he needs within hours. Medical technicians who spoke with U.S. News say the remainder are usually those who will likely succumb to their wounds but can be stabilized long enough for a reunion with family members in Germany or the U.S.
"It means the world to us," says Lorria Welch, from the deck of the C-17 carrying her son. This traumatic but important journey for her marks the second ever time she's been on an airplane, after first flying to Kentucky to witness their son's graduation from his basic training. "As a parent we say we'd beg, steal, or rob a bank to get here."
Most of the military's medical treatment was exported to the war zone in Vietnam, says Air Force Col. William Rogers, a doctor at Georgetown University and Vietnam veteran. This included advanced therapies, such as fitting for prosthetics as well as rehabilitation. Wounded soldiers could spend months at these facilities before returning home.
By contrast, troops in Operation Enduring Freedom are subject to a long train of medical experts, from the corpsmen who treats their wounds in the mountains or deserts of Afghanistan, to the medevac operators who rescue them by helicopter, to the field hospitals dotted throughout the country. All are able to incrementally treat and stabilize the complicated kinds of wounds from the ever-present improvised explosive devices that have defined the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
At each stage, these experts work solely to stabilize a patient long enough to move them onward to more advanced care.
More than 90,000 patients have been transported back to Ramstein since 2003 from the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, says Air Force Capt. Denise Covert, who oversees the medical facility at Ramstein where troops receive treatment. Of those, more than 51,000 have been sent back to the United States, while the rest of the wounded received the necessary treatment to rejoin their unit back in the war zone.
In total, the medevac service under the Air Force's Air Mobility Command moves roughly 17,000 patients per year, according to an AMC spokesman.
"What helps the warfighter most is they know they'll be able to get out of the [war zone]" if they're hurt, says Air Force Maj. Mike Lucore, a 17-year veteran of air medical evacuations.